Just after the conclusion of morning racing at the San Diego Crew Classic, University of California women's head coach Al Acosta was thinking about what adjustments his crews could make when the first day of the regatta ended and the athletes got back on the water for a quick evening practice.
The Saturday heats had gone well for Cal, with all three crews advancing into the Sunday final. Last year, Cal won every event they competed in at the Crew Classic, and then went on to close the season with an NCAA Championship. Acosta is hoping for similar success Sunday.
"We won our heats this morning, and I think we all kind of shook the cobwebs out a little bit," he said. "Now, they all have some things that they need to work on this afternoon when they go out for a paddle, and hopefully get it straight by tomorrow."
Cal traditionally races well at the Crew Classic, and they came to the regatta this season the defending champions. The field last year was fast, and the win set his crews on a good path. But this year, it is even faster, particularly in the top women's varsity event, the Jessop-Whitter Cup.
The entries featured 11 of the top women's crews in the country, including the top three finishers at the 2018 NCAA Championships - Cal, University of Washington, and the University of Texas.
From the moment all the entries were finalized, it was clear that the Jessop-Whitter Cup final was going to be one of the highlight races of the regatta.
It would have been anyway, but with Washington entered for the first time in five years, the event's place as one of the top races to watch was almost cemented. All that had to happen was for Washington and Texas to reach the final.
And they did.
California varsity women
In the first heat Cal finished first, Texas followed in second, with Washington State reaching the final in third. Following them to the final from the second heat was the University of Washington, Stanford University and the University of California, Los Angeles.
"It is a repeat of the NCAAs," Acosta said. "It's the strongest field that the Crew Classic has had in a long time, so it's a bit nerve wracking to have that in our second week of racing, but it is also a good opportunity to give everybody a good look at how fast we need to go. And it's fun. It's beautiful racing down here."
Washington head coach Yaz Farooq was equally looking forward to the Sunday final and happy to have been able to fit San Diego into her team's early season schedule. By the end of the morning heats, Washington had advanced five boats into the finals.
"We're grateful to be part of this," Farooq said. "That's the best word to describe it. They are all really great, great crews. To have the opportunity to see each other at this point in the season, at a really fun regatta like this, is inspiring to the women on our team," she said.
"You always think about the possibility of going to the Crew Classic, and then it's just a matter of how does it time out with everything. And this year it timed out great with our schedule. And it was also an opportunity for us to bring all of our Pack-12 lineups," she said.
University of Washington women
"Everything has been going pretty well top to bottom, so it was a pretty cool opportunity to bring our freshman. Normally they wouldn't get to go on the road this early in the season, so we thought that would be pretty special in a neat way for the whole team to unite and kick off the season together."
While the collegiate women's heats were a highlight of the first day of racing in the weekend regatta, it was only a part of the overall event. In all, the first day saw 66 races go down the Mission Bay race course. The majority were heats, with the exception of the Freedom Rows events, which were straight finals, and a handful of masters and alumni races.
(Read a feature on the Freedom Rows program at the Crew Classic.)
At stake in each of those heats was a chance to race in one of the finals that will begin Sunday morning, and run the length of the day.
If the women's collegiate races featured fast crews, the high school ranks were no less competitive. They dominated the afternoon racing and in just the varsity eights, there were 18 men's crews racing and 20 women.
The Crew Classic for most of those programs is most probably the most competitive any of the crews on the schedule until the season ending national championships. Among the crews having a successful day in the heats was the Marin Rowing Association, which advanced six crews.
"It's a big field, and it's kind of like the mid-point of our season, it's almost exactly the middle," said Marin men's head coach Nathanael Kielt, whose varsity and junior varsity eights won their heats, and whose lightweight men's crew advanced to the final in second.
"This is a good bench mark to judge how far you've come from the first half, and how far you need to go in the second half," he said.
Of the Sunday finals, Kielt said: "It will be tight racing. All the top three crews in the varsity are one second apart. So, we will see how it goes tomorrow, but it will be tough."
Marin men's varsity high school eight